A commission starts with getting to know the children. One sure way is to invite them to paint with me. I show them my paintings of other children and ask if they would like me to paint them too. If they agree, the next step is to have a lot of fun deciding what to wear.
Then we go to the beach to “play.”
On the beach, I encouraged them to play together before I gently start directed them. It was important that they think they are helping me and that we were in this together.
We had a lot of fun. They even asked if they could come back the next day!
The next stage was sifting through hundreds of photos to select the ones that might make a perfect motif.
For this commission, the parents had decided on four large portraits.
Haley was several years older than her sisters. We wanted them all roughly the same age in these portraits. Thus, I worked from an old photo and recreated Haley with the same background as her sisters.
Creating four matching motifs was an involved and complicated process. Each figure had to be scaled to match, and the backgrounds had to be comparable yet individually distinct. This required a lot of cut and paste and Photoshop tricks. You could say that creating these portrait motifs was a form of Virtual Art.
Creating the final motif was very much a mutual effort between the parents and me. Back and forth between us, images and the suggestions were exchanged. But, finally, we were there.
I dedicated the summer in Normandy to working on these four large paintings.
By the end of September, I felt confident enough to present my work to the family.
This is an important part of the overall process. It invites the client to suggest modifications and changes at a stage where they are still feasible.
The parents were delighted and, away from a few discussions about light and hues, all was well.
I felt comfortable enough to proceed to the final stages of mounting, framing and wrapping the canvases. So we rolled up the canvases into a large tube and back to NY we went.
Unfortunately, my NY studio was going through a renovation.
But deadlines must be kept.
After long negotiations with my husband and many drop cloths installed to protect our home, the dining room was turned in to my temporary studio.
When these large portraits were finally finished, I invited the family to a viewing. Each child stood and contemplated her own portrait. Then one of the twins looked at me and said: “Christel… you are really good at painting because that looks just like me!”
But the greatest joy – and worth all those months of hard work – was to see the parents’ faces when for the first time they saw their four daughters’ portraits .